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Monday, December 31, 2012

A Satmar Scribe Writes a Temple Torah

Satmar Sofer Rabbi Moshe Eisenbach and his temple patrons
photo credit - NJJN
The New Jersey Jewish News reports that a Sofer (scribe) from Williamsburg has written a Sefer Torah for a Reform Temple. I guess some Satmar Chasidim are more open minded than one would ever believe about them.  Rabbi Moshe Eisenbach has written one knowing it will be used by a Reform Temple. This goes just a wee bit beyond recognizing heterodox movements. Doesn’t it?

Just when you think you know everything there is to know about Satmar and Reform… along comes a story like this and completely throws you for a loop. I’m glad the Satmar Rebbe approves. Apparently. But what Agudah would say?

The Hachnosas Sefer Torah was held on Saturday, December first at a Reform Temple in Edison New Jersey. There was singing and dancing accompanied by the beautiful voice of Cantor Jacqueline Marx (who often play guitar at the service). This Shabbos had additional musicians - a pianist, woodwind player and drummer.  After the hoopla The Torah was read and a beautiful time was had by all.

Friday, December 21, 2012

I Believe Him

Photo illustration courtesy the Forward
Today’s Forward features an article by Macy Gordon’s victim. As it pertains to YU’s overall response to this both now and in the past I have an only one word response and I will repeat it many times: Investigation, investigation, investigation!  The Forward article follows:

The author claims to have been sodomized by Rabbi Macy Gordon, a former teacher at Yeshiva University High School for Boys, while a student at the school in the late 1970s and early ’80s. His was one of the accusations reported in the Forward’s December 21 issue, in “Student Claims of Abuse Not Reported by Y.U. Leader.”

I am Macy Gordon’s accuser. My allegations are true, yet I understand why some people may doubt my claims. I wish now to respond to some of the comments I have read in the wake of the Forward’s revelations and to make a few statements of my own.

To those who say that pedophiles exploit more than one child and that there must be other victims — you are correct. There was at least one more victim but he has not come forward. I cannot speak for him, but for me the exposing of this abuse has evoked nightmares and forced me to relive traumatic events that I had put behind me. Although I have asked to be anonymous, there is no guarantee that my identity will remain protected, and that is a risk I take. If other victims decide to remain silent out of fear or otherwise, that is their right, but it does not make me a liar.

To those who knew or know Rabbi Gordon and respect him, shock and denial is a reasonable response; however, surely they know that this was the reaction in the cases of Jerry Sandusky and many Catholic clergy. It is that very veneer of respect that might enable some of these infamous pedophiles to commit serial crimes. If it were the janitor, he would be reported immediately. But when a revered member of society commits these crimes, victims are confused and are frightened of the perpetrator’s authority. Their stature also grants these pedophiles a lesser degree of suspicion. That, too, intimidates victims.

To those who are outraged that these individuals are being tried in the press, this was the last — and only — resort. Rabbi Norman Lamm, Y.U,’s former president, admitted that staff who had improper sexual activity were let go, especially if it was what he called a “cut-and-dry case.” In my case we reported the activity to Y.U. and as far as I know they did not investigate further, although I gave them the name of another victim. That also means they did not try to evaluate or assist that other student.

After so many years, the statute of limitations has expired. Others have previously pleaded with Y.U. to investigate past sex abuses but were ignored. The only way this has gotten any attention was through the media. Whatever you think of the Forward, the paper’s staffers are not stupid. Trust me that they did their due diligence, interviewed me a number of times and still took great risks to publish my account.

To those who doubt my account because of the details, that hurts me the most. You are essentially accusing me of being not just a liar, but also a bad liar. Would you be more satisfied if I said I had been raped? It should be self-evident that victims do not choose their method of assault.

To you victims of sexual abuse who are still struggling to find your way, I understand you. Perhaps you blame yourself. Your response is normal. In fact, you are entitled to whatever feelings you have about this. You are also entitled to get professional help, which is what I did. You may want to reconsider your connection to religion, but I encourage you to not let the predator rob you of your ties to Judaism. Find the best values that religion has to offer and live by them, as I do. Gemilut chesed, acts of loving-kindness will help you heal. Dedicate yourself to some form of community service and your faith in people and yourself will be restored.

To the Orthodox who are grappling with this, some of you are stuck between the concepts of lashon hara, gossiping, and motzi shem ra, discussing false accusations. This is a reflex response for some of you, but also a convenient way to stifle discourse on an important topic for the community.

To Rabbi Macy Gordon, you are now an old man, but you were in your prime when you assaulted me. Although you had no compassion for me, I have some rachmanus, compassion for you. I feel bad for you that you must deal with this now at this stage of life. And I feel very sad for your children. This cannot be easy on them, but it is your own fault.

Also your fault is that I cannot daven the shmone esrei in peace and often skip it entirely. That is because you required us to memorize the modim and I find myself thinking of what you did to me. It is your fault that it took me many years to trust people again.

To Rabbi Norman Lamm, how is it that you do not now remember the “shock” that we were told you experienced upon hearing of my molestation at the hands of Macy Gordon? I suppose a $250,000 donation to name a scholarship after Gordon is incentive enough to forget.

To current Y.U. President Richard Joel, what will you do now? Will you allow the Macy Gordon scholarship to stand? In the end, I have to say that I did learn some things during my time at Yeshiva:

1.To distrust authority, especially the clergy.

2. That the Orthodox are for sure better at observing various rituals but are just as corrupt and unethical as everyone else (they just don’t see it that way).

I want to share a story that even I find incredible in retrospect. I once was caught cheating on a chumash test in Macy Gordon’s class, but I tried to lie about it. I was sent down to the office of the assistant principal, George Finkelstein, where he looked at me sternly and said, “Averah goreret averah” — “One sin begets another.” Indeed.

Monday, December 17, 2012

A Sober Analysis of the Weberman Verdict

Weberman and an attorney at trial
The following is an article in the Forward. It does cast somewhat of a shadow on the verdict as the author suggests. I agree with her that it would be helpful if more victims came forward and make their experiences public. 

I have been assured by my contacts in that community that there are more victims who have indeed come forward privately but fear retribution if they were to go public. I hope that some of them do summon the courage to come forward so that there can be no mistake about Weberman's guilt. The article follows in its entirety. 

On December 10, Nechemya Weberman, an unlicensed youth and marriage counselor in the Satmar community of Brooklyn’s Williamsburg, was convicted of 59 counts of sexual misconduct against a minor.

As in any trial, the judge reminded the jurors that the defendant’s guilt must be proved “beyond reasonable doubt.” But with Weberman now facing a possible prison sentence of 25 years or more, it is worth asking what exactly has been proved beyond a reasonable doubt, and whether it was Weberman’s community as much as his actions — deplorable if true — being judged in the docket with him.

The Brooklyn district attorney’s case hinged exclusively on the credibility of the team’s single witness — the young woman accusing Weberman of sexually abusing her during each of their counseling sessions, which often took place multiple times a week, beginning when she was 12 and ending when she was 15. Though there have been reports of other victims, both from religious support groups for victims as well as from the DA, none have come forward. Weberman has flatly denied the allegations. When asked if he had ever touched his accuser inappropriately, he said, “Never, ever.” Absent DNA evidence, the case is a he said, she said. The verdict hung ultimately on whose testimony the jury found more credible.

Related Hasidic Sex Abuse Victims Advocate Hit With Bleach Nechemya Weberman Convicted in Sex Case Most Brooklyn Abuse Cases Involve Kin Weberman’s defense team questioned the accuser’s credibility by arguing that she had two very strong motives for wanting to harm Weberman. First, the accuser’s sister owed the defendant $35,000, the first $10,000 of which was due six days before she went to the police to report Weberman. And second, Weberman had assisted the accuser’s father in taping her having sex with her 18-year-old boyfriend when she was 15, leading to the boyfriend’s arrest. On the stand, Weberman’s accuser denied that she knew of his involvement in the arrest, stating that she learned of it only this past summer, though Weberman’s name was explicitly stated as an accomplice during her original complaint to the New York City Police Department, two years ago.

The defense team also pointed to discrepancies noted when comparing the accuser’s testimony in court with her conversation with the arresting detective, to whom she made the original complaint. Furthermore, the top two counts for which Weberman was standing trial were on dates of alleged abuse that didn’t match the victim’s statement to the NYPD. For these reasons, Weberman’s attorney argued, none of the evidence against his client is provable beyond reasonable doubt, and the case should be dismissed.

On the other side of the aisle, the DA’s office painted Weberman as a sexual predator with a harem of young girls to satisfy his every sexual need. But their main attempts to discredit him came not from testimonies of other victims, of which there were none, but rather from his shady business dealings and his position in the male-dominated Satmar world. They said he used a credit card belonging to his charity organization to pay tuition for one of his children, and later used the same credit card to purchase lingerie (his wife maintains that the charge was hers; she purchased clothing for a young woman who was the recipient of Weberman’s charity). They mentioned the fact that Weberman allows people to call him “Rebbe” despite not being ordained. They mentioned the fact that he charged a whopping $150 a session for “counseling” despite being unlicensed.

But beyond the connotations and stereotypes suggested by this evidence and certainly reiterated in the media, the DA’s case focused on the rules of the Satmar world; the stringency of the dress code; the suppression of free thought; the laws of yihud, or seclusion, governing women and men’s conduct; the regime of terror that the Va’ad Hatznius, the modesty council, allegedly metes out upon young women; the beit din, or private courts, and most of all, the injunction to maintain an absolute separation of the sexes. An expert was brought in to go over the details of this community’s lifestyle, all of which were portrayed as draconian, misogynistic and enabling of sexual abuse. The clear implication was that the accuser was victimized not only by Weberman, but also by his form of religion.

In this context, the accuser was portrayed as a hero in her attempts to escape from this repressive and alienating environment. Her process toward secularization was represented as emancipation from the world of the defendent toward the world of the jurors. She stood up for herself in school — questioning God and the necessity of modesty laws — becoming an outcast; now she stands up to the accused, who is backed by the Satmar establishment “like a god in Williamsburg,” the accuser said.

But one of the main signs of this secularization was hidden from the jury. The judge didn’t allow the tape showing the accuser having sex with her older boyfriend to be admitted into evidence — an expected but monumental decision, as it turns out. One alternate juror who I spoke with while observing the trial, a Brooklyn resident in his mid-30s, said he was “split down the middle” as to whether he would have convicted. The alternate juror said that seeing a sex tape would definitely have made him question the credibility of the witness. While it would be deeply problematic for a young woman’s testimony to be discounted simply on the grounds of her not being a virgin, or even on the grounds that she might be the only victim, it would be equally problematic for a man to be accused of a crime he might not have committed because a jury had been alienated by his religious choices.

Based on the evidence actually presented in court, only the accuser and accused, and not the jury, can be said to know what happened between them during those sessions, beyond reasonable doubt. The testimonies of those who have heretofore refused to come forward would be required to tip the scales. While the value of using reasonable doubt as a standard for judging criminal acts, especially rape, may be debated, as might the Satmar community’s business dealings and handling of teenage behavior, Weberman was not on trial for his community or his business dealings, though at times this seemed like the DA’s central and more damning argument against him.

Batya Ungar-Sargon is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer who teaches at CUNY’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice.